Forester, by Maria Edgeworth

The Meadows.

Our hero accompanied the little girl with eager, benevolent curiosity. “There,” said she, when they came to the Meadows, “do you see that white house, with the paling before it?” “But that cannot be your house!” “No, no, sir: Dr. Campbell and several gentlemen have the large room, and they come there twice a-week to teach something to a great many children. Grandmother can explain all that better to you, sir, than I can; but all I know is, that it is our business to keep the room aired and swept, and to take care of the glass things which you’ll see; and you shall see how clean it is: it was I swept it this morning.”

They had now reached the gate which was in the paling before the house. The old woman came to the door, clean, neat, and cheerful; she recollected to have seen Forester in company with Henry Campbell at the watchmaker’s; and this was sufficient to make him a welcome guest. “God bless the family, and all that belongs to them, for ever and ever!” said the woman. “This way, sir.” “Oh, don’t look into our little rooms yet: look at the great room first, if you please, sir,” said the child.

There was a large table in the middle of this long room, and several glass retorts, and other chemical vessels, were ranged upon shelves; wooden benches were placed on each side of the table. The grandmother, to whom the little girl had referred for a clear explanation, could not, however, tell Forester very exactly the use of the retorts; but she informed him that many of the manufacturers in Edinburgh sent their sons hither twice a-week; and Dr. Campbell, and Mr. Henry Campbell, and some other gentlemen, came by turns to instruct them. Forester recollected now that he once heard Henry talking to his father about a scheme for teaching the children of the manufacturers of Edinburgh some knowledge of chemistry, such as they might afterwards apply advantageously to the arts and every-day business of life.

“I have formed projects, but what good have I ever actually done to my fellow-creatures?” said Forester to himself. With melancholy steps he walked to examine every thing in the room. “Dr. Campbell sits in this arm-chair, does not he? And where does Henry sit?” The old woman placed the chairs for him as they usually were placed. Upon one of the shelves there was a slate, which, as it had been written upon, the little girl had put by very carefully; there were some calculations upon the weight of different gases, and the figures Forester knew to be Henry’s: he looked at every thing that was Henry’s with pleasure. “Because I used to be so rough in my manner to him,” said Forester to himself, “I dare say that he thinks I have no feeling, and I suppose he has forgotten me by this time: I deserve, indeed, to be forgotten by every body! How could I leave such friends!” On the other side of the slate poor Forester saw his own name written several times over, in his friend’s hand-writing, and he read two lines of his own poetry, which he remembered to have repeated to Henry the day that they walked to Arthur’s Seat. Forester felt much pleasure from this little proof of his friend’s affection. “Now won’t you look at our nice rooms?” said the child, who had waited with some patience till he had done pondering upon the slate.

The little rooms were well arranged, and their neatness was not now as much lost upon our hero as it would have been some time before. The old woman and her grand-daughter, with all the pride of gratitude, exhibited to him several little presents of furniture which they had received from Dr. Campbell’s family. “Mr. Henry gave me this! Miss Flora gave me that!” was frequently repeated. The little girl opened the door of her own room. On a clean white deal bracket, which “Mr. Henry lad put up with his own hands,” stood the well-known geranium in its painted flower-pot. Forester saw nothing else in the room, and it was in vain that both the old woman and her grand-daughter talked to him at once; he heard not a word that was said to him. The flowers were all gone, and the brown calyces of the geranium flowers reminded him of the length of time which had elapsed since he had first seen them. “I am sorry there are no flowers to offer you,” said the little girl, observing Forester’s melancholy look; “but I thought you did not like geraniums; for I remember when I gave you a fine flower in the watchmaker’s shop you pulled it to pieces, and threw it on the ground.” “I should not do so now,” said Forester. The black marks on the painted flower-pot had been entirely effaced: be turned away, endeavoured to conceal his emotion, and took leave of the place as soon as the grateful inhabitants would suffer him to depart. The reflection that he had wasted his time, that he had never done any good to any human being, that he had lost opportunities of making both himself and others happy, pressed upon his mind; but his Stoical pride still resisted the thought of returning to Dr. Campbell’s. “It will be imagined that I yield my opinions from meanness of spirit,” said he to himself. “Dr. Campbell certainly has no further regard or esteem for me; neither he nor Henry have troubled themselves about my fate: they are doing good to more deserving objects; they are intent upon literary pursuits, and have not time to bestow a thought upon me. And Flora, I suppose, is as gay as she is good. I alone am unhappy — a wanderer — an outcast — a useless being.”

Forester, whilst he was looking at the geranium, or soon afterwards, missed his handkerchief; the old woman and her grand-daughter searched for it all over the house, but in vain: he then thought he must have left it at the washerwoman’s, where he met the little girl; he called to inquire for it, upon his return to Edinburgh. When he returned to this woman’s house for his handkerchief, he found her sitting upon a low stool, in her laundry, weeping bitterly; her children stood round her. Forester inquired into the cause of her distress, and she told him that a few minutes after he left her, the young gentleman who had been thrown from his horse into the scavenger’s cart was brought into her house, whilst his servant went home for another suit of clothes for him. “I did not at first guess that I had ever seen the young gentleman before,” continued she; “but when the mud was cleared from his face I knew him to be Mr. Archibald Mackenzie. I am sure I wish I had never seen his face then or at any time. He was in a very bad humour after his tumble, and he began again to threaten me about a ten-guinea bank-note, which he and his servant declare they sent in his waistcoat pocket to be washed: I’m sure I never saw it. Mr. Henry Campbell quieted him about it for awhile; but just now he began again with me, and he says he has spoken to a lawyer, and that he will make me pay the whole note; and he swore at me as if I had been the worst creature in the world; and, God knows, I work hard for my children, and never wronged any one in my days!”

Forester, who forgot all his own melancholy reflections as soon as he could assist any one who was in distress, bade the poor woman dry her tears, and assured her that she had nothing to fear; for he would instantly go to Dr. Campbell, and get him to speak to Mackenzie. “If it is necessary,” said he, “I’ll pay the money myself.” She clasped her hands joyfully as he spoke, and all her children joined in an exclamation of delight. “I’ll go to Dr. Campbell’s this instant,” said our hero, whose pride now yielded to the desire of doing justice to this injured woman; he totally forgot himself, and thought only of her: “I’ll go to Dr. Campbell’s, and I will speak to Mr. Mackenzie immediately.”

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Last updated Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 14:44